Director John Madden
Screenplay Jonathan Perera
Starring Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alison Pill, Jake Lacy, John Lithgow, Sam Waterston
This is a movie that wants to show you how powerful and self-sacrificing one woman can be to bring down the gun lobby. It’s a pretty basic premise, moving only in one direction, never proving its point and hoping you won’t mind their gaps in logic. The script feels like someone who is just finishing college might think of as wisdom. Comparing the Constitution to a horoscope might work among your friends at the pub, but over a dozen wars into defending it, I would guess most Americans would disagree.
I don’t think this is as much a film as a playing to the audience of liberals who would crave to watch it, so I won’t bother with a traditional review. Instead I will go down the list of actors and give a short dissertation on their performance.
Mark Strong (Schmidt) – As the good hearted and wise for his leanings leader of the anti-2nd Amendment non-profit, Strong gives his usual good work as the reasoned counter to Chastain’s full steam ahead Sloane. He is always the counterpoint of experience in losing, so that naturally gives him the opportunity to be surprised.
Alison Pill – As Jane’s protoge at her first firm, she stays behind, presumably to keep her career. She has one good move in the plot, and it’s outdone by going for a second one.
Michael Stuhlbarg – His Pat Connors is the one most counter to Sloane, and he’s the one most hurt by her leaving his corporation to work for a non-profit. He’s given just enough rope to seem clever, but not enough to reason out that he’s being had by the protagonist.
Sam Waterston – George Dupont, lead sleazeball of the corporation, his role is limited to saying the one thing that can lose the case for everyone, then looking surprised when everyone else figures out the plan. What a waster of sublime acting talent.
John Lithgow – Senator Sperling is the same thing, but for government, as Dupont. He at least gets to look clever for 3 acts until the inevitable.
Jake Lacy – Forde, the male prostitute with a heart of gold. I still think of him as Plop from The Office, though.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Esme. She’s the star in the offing whose wings are clipped mid-flight by Sloane. Her performance is understated as ever, and excellent. She is given the best line of the film, even if it’s ignored for the effort to make Sloane the hero: “You crossed the line when you stopped treating people with respect. You’re smart enough to know that. You just don’t care.”
Jessica Chastain: This is Oscar bait for her that only got as far as a Golden Globe nomination. It doesn’t deserve that. She does better work than this on a regular basis. The problem with making someone so hard ass is even if they cry, even if they’re flawed, they still have to win in the end. She is a completely better actress than this Norma Rae kind of stuff. On the plus side, seeing this made me realize why I never watched Erin Brockovich a second time.
If you are still wondering whether to watch this or not, I don’t know what to tell you beyond this: I decided to watch this on the recommendation of a friend, but only after seeing the entire cast. It’s a good team they have here. Even so, there are really only a couple of non-wrote performances (Mbatha-Raw and Strong) where the people seem more than plot devices. Chastain feels like a prisoner to the script, which should not happen in a decent or even good film.
Madden has done better work, and a lot of it. Even trite stuff like …Marigold Hotel duo is more interesting than this tripe. The time for taking a stand against the big corporation is about 3 decades past its prime. There is no winning certain arguments, like gun control. A brave movie would actually show how our government makes money off of arguments they know will never be won, nor want to be won.
Watch this only if you need to see everything Chastain or Mbatha-Raw have done. Otherwise, avoid.
(*1/2 out of ******)